Activision Blizzard breaks off from Vivendi in $8.2 billion deal

UPDATE The house of Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Skylanders will spin off of Vivendi to become an independent, publicly traded publisher.
Activision Blizzard will break off from media conglomerate and majority shareholder Vivendi to strike out on its own as an independent – albeit still publicly traded – video game publisher, in a deal worth $8.2 billion, the company announced at midnight EST on Friday. The company will be buying back shares totaling $5.83 billion, combined with a share purchase totaling $2.34 billion from an independent investor group led by Activision CEO Bobby Kotick and co-chair Brian Kelly. The majority of the company’s shares will be owned by the public after the transaction, which the company expects to finalize in September. It’s a major move for Activision Blizzard, a company that was forged in a late 2007 deal with then-Blizzard owner Vivendi Games. Now Activision Blizzard is its own entity, and still home to some of the biggest franchises in games, such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Skylanders. What this all means, according to Kotick, is that his company "should emerge even stronger -- an independent company with a best-in-class franchise portfolio...The transactions announced today will allow us to take advantage of attractive financing markets while still retaining more than $3 billion cash on hand to preserve financial stability." Kotick will serve as CEO of the company following the transaction, while Kelly will serve as chairman. The two personally contributed a combined $100 million towards the deal. The investment group led by the two executives will own around 25 percent of total company shares. Major Chinese online game company Tencent is also part of the investment group. Kotick said in a statement that he expects the deal to benefit both Activision Blizzard and its shareholders, including Vivendi, which will retain 12 percent of total shares. "We are grateful for Vivendi's partnership through this period, and we look forward to their continued support," he said. Ahead of a special conference call tomorrow morning, Activision Blizzard announced preliminary second quarter revenues of around $1.05 billion, and earnings per share of 28 cents. For the full year, Activision Blizzard expects to report $4.31 billion in revenue, up from a previous forecast of $4.22 billion. The company expects full year earnings per share of 77 cents, up from an earlier forecast of 73 cents. Activision Blizzard added that World of Warcraft subscriptions now stand at 7.7 million worldwide. UPDATE: A conference call Friday morning didn't yield much new information. But Kotick did explain Tencent's role as an investor. "I think their investment just confirms the enthusiasm we have in our partnership for Call of Duty in China," he said, answering an analyst's question. Tencent will not hold a board seat, and Kotick said it will be a "passive investor."

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